Food News

Berlu’s Summer of Ice Cream

The Vietnamese fine dining restaurant puts a pause on tasting menus for August, making way for extended bakery hours and a Saturday afternoon ice cream window.

By Matthew Trueherz August 3, 2022

Durian and strawberry ice cream with grilled honey comb cake at Berlu.

Image: Berlu

Tucked into the nondescript courtyard of a building on SE Belmont, Berlu’s minimal-chic dining room feels a bit like a pedestal in an art gallery; on display is chef Vince Nguyen’s modernist approach to Vietnamese cuisine. Reservations for the three-nights-per-week tasting menu can be tough to snag, but Nguyen has offered a slew of easier-to-catch pop-ups over the last few years, both to flex his muscles outside of the tasting menu format, and to give ogling foodies a chance to taste what he’s cooking. Whenever he does, we show up, because it's always delicious and because it’s more than likely that he’ll be on to the next thing before long, leaving you scrolling on your phone with insurmountable FOMO.  

Throughout the pandemic, Nguyen has toyed with a rotating cast of events like a courtyard night market, a Vietnamese noodle soup take-away, and a dressed down Berlu-as-a-wine bar series that offered à la carte iterations of his tasting menu snacks, which take themselves extremely seriously while also knowing how to have a good time. Berlu Bakery, the longest-standing offshoot, serves ultra-refined versions of Vietnamese desserts on Sunday mornings. A favorite is the chewy, electric green bánh bò nướng (“honey comb cake”), that tastes—in the most outstanding way—like it’s made out of gummy bears. (Nguyen even sells socks printed with the internet famous cake.)  

To cool off for the summer and to give his staff a well-earned break, Nguyen is pausing the tasting menu through August. Instead, the bakery hours will extend to Saturdays and Sundays (10-1), and Nguyen will host an afternoon ice cream window Saturdays from 4 p.m.-6 pm (skipping the 13th). 

As for the ice creams: Nguyen isn’t leaving behind his futuristic bent. Textures are paramount. Ice creams will be carefully crafted with both liquid nitrogen and a temperature-controlled blender called a Paco-Jet—techniques usually reserved for the most fastidious pastry chefs, and served in miniature quantities. But with this bag of fine dining tricks, Nguyen is also keenly aware of the casual atmosphere: “We want to focus on flavors that are a little more approachable and fun but are still very unique and represent Southeast flavors,” he says.  

Nguyen says the offerings will likely change over the course of the pop-up, but to start, the window will serve three flavors: pandan pistachio, grilled banana leaf with banana caramel, and toasted rice with mango and fig leaf. “Everyone has ice cream cones,” says Nguyen, so instead of bringing back the pandan cones he once served at a pop-up with soft-serve shop Eb & Bean, he'll serve sticky rice and grilled honeycomb cake as optional add-ons. Like everything else on the Berlu menu, the ice cream and add-ons will be dairy-free and gluten-free, with ice cream made of coconut, almond, pistachio, or rice milk. Everything is vegan, too, except the honeycomb cake, which is made with egg. 

“I've been wanting to put more focus on ice cream,” says Nguyen. Berlu’s tasting menu only allows for a small window to play with, and the bakery’s hours are a bit early to serve the kinds of à la minute frozen treats he’s after. If Nguyen’s version of a vacation gives us another window into his culinary world, better yet, an ice cream window, we’ll take it.